Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Storyteller's Rulebook #114: Culture Abhors a Vacuum

If you hear someone say, “You shouldn’t write an alien invasion movie because nobody’s making those these days…” then it’s time to write a alien invasion movie.

Culture, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The alien invasion movie will always come back, because audiences have fond memories of the alien invasion movies of their youth, and they come to miss them. As soon as a sense of “we had this, but now it’s gone” kicks in, then the craving kicks in, and the craving must be satiated.

Sub-genres like “alien invasion” aren’t interesting enough to remain perpetually popular, year after year, but they’re always going to cycle back around, once people have had some time away from them.Of course, sometimes the cycle is hard to time. The makers of Cutthroat Island thought it was time for pirates again, but they were ten years too early. But nevertheless pirates did come back, and it’s not surprising. Don’t ask “have they made a movie like this recently?”, ask instead, “Is this still a potent metaphor?” Obviously, Americans are still accusing each other of piracy all the time, so we continue find metaphorical meaning in that setting. The right movie just had to come along and tap into that meaning.

Of course, it’s trickier with types of movies that have never been a hit with the public. There’s never been a hit set-on-Mars movie, so there’s not really a vacuum there: there’s no sense of “now it’s gone” because we’ve never had it. The problem is that Mars is not a metaphor, it’s just a place ...for now. If you want to write the first hit movie set on Mars, you have to turn it into a meaningful metaphor for the first time, which is a tall order.


mima said...

Hey Matt,
Just want you to know that I think your blog is one of the BEST writing-tips blogs I've read. Thanks for your time!

Matt Bird said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mima.

Whome1996 said...

Hey fellow storytellers! I've been exploring ways to elevate storytelling, and stumbled upon a treasure trove of science and technology images at Depositphotos. Integrating visuals from this collection into our narratives could add depth and intrigue. As we discussed culture's role in storytelling, visual elements can amplify the cultural nuances we aim to convey. Check out the link, and let's exchange ideas on how we can weave these visuals into our storytelling palette! Looking forward to your thoughts and creative insights.